By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published January 12, 2018
NEW YORK (CNS)—An odd combination of elements makes up the offbeat drama “Downsizing.” But the residue that remains with viewers is ultimately a positive one.
On the dramatic level, what begins as a curious sci-fi fantasy about a futuristic technology people can use to shrink themselves (and thereby greatly reduce the toll they take on the environment) becomes a deeply humane, faith-tinged story once it veers off in an unexpected direction.
Morally, to reach the picture’s ethical core, grown moviegoers will have to resolve not to be put off by the incidental sights and strong vocabulary that make this a wholly unsuitable offering for youngsters. Some unacceptable bedroom behavior and implicitly anti-life propaganda about the supposed results of overpopulation are further barriers along the path to a wrap-up more in harmony with Catholic teaching.
Early scenes are only marginally engaging as we follow the typical suburban life of Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an in-house physical therapist at the Nebraska headquarters of Omaha Steaks.
Strapped for cash and anxious to improve their lifestyle, Paul and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to “go small.” They do so on the assurance that their relatively meager life savings will be multiplied in value many times in their new, miniature environment—a luxurious community for the diminutive known as Leisureland.
The film tarries to show the details of the medical procedure, then ambushes Paul with unexpected news. Waking up from the irreversible operation, he discovers that a panicked, selfish Audrey has decided, at the last possible moment, to stay big.
A messy divorce ensues in which Audrey manages to fleece Paul. As a result, Paul is reduced to working as a phone salesman and living in a modest apartment instead of the ostentatious McMansion he and Audrey had chosen in Leisureland.
Attending a wild party thrown by his upstairs neighbor, cynical yet strangely likable Serbian businessman Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), Paul uncharacteristically decides to experiment with an unknown drug and wakes up on Dusan’s floor the next morning much the worse for wear.
Paul seems to have hit rock bottom, at least temporarily. Yet his life is about to be transformed by his interaction with Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau in a powerful performance), one of the maids who arrive to clean up the post-party mess.
A Vietnamese refugee who gained brief notoriety as the only survivor of a group escaping from her homeland—where, as an outspoken dissident-turned-political-prisoner, she had been forcibly downsized by her captors—Ngoc, who lost part of her leg to amputation after being rescued, introduces Paul to a lifestyle and set of priorities entirely at odds with his own.
Accompanying her to the outlying slum where she lives, Paul witnesses the daily round of charitable giving in which Ngoc engages, distributing the food cast off by her various wealthy employers. In case he’s in any doubt as to the inspiration for her generosity, she then announces that their next stop will be the evangelical chapel where she enthusiastically worships.
Paul feels compelled to help Ngoc because his attempt to use his professional skills to fix her faulty prosthesis, soon after their first meeting, went badly awry, leaving her immobilized. And Ngoc, it turns out, is as feisty and even dictatorial as she is selfless.
Director and co-writer Alexander Payne’s conversion story, penned with Jim Taylor, goes on to juxtapose contemporary urban values against the more traditional and substantial ones espoused by Ngoc, and forces Paul to make a fundamental choice between them. He also has to decide whether a sexual encounter with Ngoc is to be an isolated incident or the inappropriate prelude to something more lasting.
Dusan’s eccentric charisma—he’s at once both sardonic and somehow warmhearted—and the spice that enlivens Ngoc’s personality keep the picture’s tone from sliding into sentimentality. So, despite its aesthetic and moral rough spots, overall, “Downsizing” turns out to have considerable appeal for a mature audience.
The film contains full nudity in a medical context, off-screen premarital sexual activity, acceptability of divorce, drug use, a few uses of profanity as well as frequent rough and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“All the Money in the World” (Sony)
By turns suspenseful, darkly comic and stridently moral, this slightly fictionalized account of the famous 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the grandson of his billionaire namesake (Christopher Plummer), makes a strong case that immense wealth not only can’t buy happiness, it also imposes depths of misery that few ever know. As scripted by David Scarpa from John Pearson’s 1995 book “Painfully Rich,” it traces the efforts of the victim’s divorced mother (Michelle Williams) and the ex-CIA agent (Mark Wahlberg) aiding her to out-negotiate both the miserly oil tycoon—who refuses to pay the $17 million ransom—and the lad’s captors. Mature themes, fleeting gore, frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (Columbia)
Amusing comic adventure in which a quartet of teens (Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman and Morgan Turner) find themselves magically transported into an old video game where they inhabit the avatars they chose before the start of play (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan). Most of the laughs come from the contrast between the characters’ real-life personas and the bodies and personalities they take on within their new environment. As they face and overcome a series of challenges in their quest to win the game—the only means of reemerging from it—the ensemble learns familiar Hollywood lessons about the value of teamwork and the courage required to pursue cherished dreams. Director Jake Kasdan’s film, more a variant on than a sequel to 1995’s “Jumanji,” and based, like its predecessor, on Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 children’s book, keeps its conflicts almost completely bloodless. But some off-color gags and a considerable amount of vulgarity in the dialogue render this strictly grownup fare. Gunplay and other combat violence, some of it harsh but with minimal gore, at least one use of profanity and a couple of milder oaths, sexual and anatomical humor, a single rough term, a few crude and numerous crass words. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Father Figures” (Warner Bros.)
Threadbare comedy about estranged fraternal twins (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms) who belatedly learn from their mother (Glenn Close) that the man she long ago told them was their deceased father was, in fact, just a friend of hers, and that their real dad may be alive—though her promiscuous past makes it impossible for her to identify for sure which of many candidates he might be. This discovery launches the siblings on a road trip during which they visit a series of contenders, the first being famed football star Terry Bradshaw, playing himself. Director Lawrence Sher’s formulaic feature debut quickly sinks into a stupor from which only an energetic turn from Katt Williams as a hitchhiker does it briefly emerge. And the distasteful premise is matched by a worm’s-eye view of human sexuality throughout, although the resolving plot twist can be seen as vaguely pro-life. Pervasive sexual and some scatological humor, an incest theme, a premarital bedroom scene, about a dozen uses of profanity, a couple of milder oaths, constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“The Post” (Fox)
Nostalgic account of The Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 has Meryl Streep as publisher Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee fighting both the Nixon administration and their own notions of how journalists should behave around prominent public officials. Director Steven Spielberg, working from a script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, aims to make a rouser along the lines of 1952’s “Deadline U.S.A.” and, according to that film’s formula of a crusading newspaper in financial peril triumphing over government secrets and crooked politicians, he succeeds. Scenes of military combat, fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.